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New Hampshire again considers death penalty repeal

February 19, 2019
Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte testifies Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Concord, N.H., against a bill that would repeal New Hampshire's death penalty. Ayotte, a former attorney general, was the lead prosecutor in the capital murder case of Michael Addison, the state's only death row inmate, who killed a Manchester police officer in 2006. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer)
Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte testifies Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Concord, N.H., against a bill that would repeal New Hampshire's death penalty. Ayotte, a former attorney general, was the lead prosecutor in the capital murder case of Michael Addison, the state's only death row inmate, who killed a Manchester police officer in 2006. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire lawmakers are once again considering a bill to repeal the death penalty, less than six months after failing to override Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of an identical measure.

The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1939, and the repeal bill would not apply retroactively to Michael Addison, who killed Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006 and is the state’s only death row inmate. But supporters of capital punishment argue that courts will see it differently.

“If you repeal the death penalty, I want you to understand that Michael Addison’s sentence will be commuted to life without parole, which would not be just and would send the wrong message to criminals when it comes to killing police officers in the state of New Hampshire,” former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte told the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

Ayotte, a former attorney general, was the lead prosecutor in the Addison case. She reminded lawmakers that the shooting happened after a crime spree that would have already been enough to put Addison in prison for life.

“What are we saying if you’re a career criminal who’s been on a crime spree and are already facing a life sentence and there’s no death penalty, no other punishment to impose? Why not, in that circumstance, unfortunately, kill the police officer? Because that’s what happened that night. That is why the jury imposed the death penalty,” she said.

“There should be a penalty for what happened to Officer Michael Briggs,” she said. “Our law enforcement officers deserve this protection and they deserve this deterrent.”

The president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police also spoke against the repeal bill, but nearly all the other speakers favored repeal, including two other former attorneys general, a retired judge, and a man who spent nearly a decade on death row in Maryland before DNA evidence cleared him of the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. Several relatives of murder victims also testified, including Andrea LeBlanc, of Barrington, who lost her husband in the second plane to hit the World Trade Center on 9/11.

“State sponsored killing is an act of violence,” she said. “I refuse to give permission to the government to kill in my name.”

New Hampshire’s death penalty applies in only seven scenarios: the killing of an on-duty law enforcement officer or judge, murder for hire, murder during a rape, certain drug offenses or home invasion and murder by someone already serving a life sentence without parole. Lawmakers have considered bills to repeal it every session for the last two decades. Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill in 2000. In September, the Senate fell two votes short of the 16 needed to override Sununu’s veto, but after the November election, it appears to have a veto-proof majority in favor of repeal.

It’s less clear what will happen in the 400-member House, but at least one former capital punishment supporter has changed his mind since the last vote. Rep. David Welch, has supported the death penalty for 34 years as a lawmaker and former chairman of the Criminal Justice committee. But his wife’s death two years ago changed that, he said.

“My grief has been really hard to deal with,” he said, pausing to steady his voice. “I always supported the death penalty because of police officers... but everyone who goes into prison and jail has a family. Regardless of what crimes they committed, they still have a family. When that person is executed by the state, it just goes against my grain to have the state put that family into grief.”

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